What are boundaries?
Boundaries are the ‘space’ between ourselves and the other person. This can be emotional, mental or a physical space. It can also be explained as “the line where I end and someone else begins”, stated by clinical psychologist Ryan Howes. Another way to think of boundaries is imagining state borders throughout the country. We all have an emotional/mental/physical border that keeps us comfortable and safe. These borders indicate to people what is okay and what is not okay.
Have you ever been in a situation where a friend leans in too close to you, and you want to immediately lean away? Your physical boundary has been crossed. Have you ever been part of a conversation and the other person shares too many details? That’s an emotional/mental boundary that is being crossed. Boundaries are applicable to all relationships. Whether it’s between friendships, family members or coworkers.
What’s an unhealthy boundary? Unhealthy boundaries include oversharing, being uncomfortably close to others, feeling extremely incomplete without your partner and being controlled by another. This can be observed in codependent relationships.
What does healthy boundaries look like? Healthy boundaries include keeping private information private, being considerate about your presence and not impeding on another’s personal space, taking responsibility for your own happiness and being open and honest with others.
How are boundaries formed?
Boundaries are formed primarily throughout childhood. If a child’s needs are met, they are able to develop a healthy sense of personal boundaries. However, if a child suddenly has to take care of a parent with an addiction/mental illness, there can be confusion as to what a healthy boundary is. Children who suffer verbal, physical or sexual abuse can also struggle with developing healthy personal boundaries.
Why are boundaries useful?
Healthy boundaries are useful as it helps to sustain our relationships, by giving it structure. We are able to communicate open and honestly, share our feelings and thoughts without impeding on other’s mental health. It helps to establish our own identity. It’s also good for stabilising our mental and emotional states.
If we don’t have boundaries set for ourselves, it may lead people to disrespect our time, our effort or our space. Unhealthy boundaries can even impede on our happiness.
For example, I used to keep my notification sounds on for my emails. Throughout the night, the “pinging” sound of my phone would wake me up. I started waking up annoyed because of the sounds. I’ve disabled the notification settings now. This is what setting a boundary looks like – although it is simple, it is effective and relevant for more serious situations. I respect my sleep and time-out from technology, so I took the necessary step to ensure this is respected.
How can we apply it to our lives?
First, communicate! Sometimes we may not be aware of our boundaries until it happens. That’s okay! Just make sure you communicate that with the other person so they know. Encourage them to also do the same with you.
2. Be honest!
This can also fall under communication. Be honest and clear about what is okay and what is not okay. You’re not just protecting yourself but also the other person from resentment, constant fighting or silent treatments.
3. Find support outside of the relationship.
Seek a professional that you trust to work through boundary issues. Sometimes it’s easier to navigate our feelings if there is a professional outside of the relationship, supporting us. Even a trusted friend or family member can help us through this.
4. Learn to say no.
If it is not in your best interest, say no. As humans, we generally have the innate ability to notice when we’re in a toxic relationship. It’s okay to walk away. It is within your ability and right, to say no and walk away. Don’t worry about what other people think!
5. Be aware of your needs.
In my previous post, I spoke about what ‘needs‘ are. If you prefer to be alone sometimes to recharge – don’t sacrifice that time. Prioritise space and distance to look after yourself.
6. Do your best to stay consistent.
Don’t look outward for self-esteem, search within yourself. The key to self-love is setting healthy boundaries. Always remember your own strength.
Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. In order to help others, we must first help ourselves. Think of ways you can start to make those positive changes. Is it by communicating with others? Or by writing down boundaries to work on? Maybe you can encourage someone who is struggling with this today. Life is all about learning and growing!
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Love and light x
Image by Priscilla Du Preez.